Encased: A Sci-Fi Post-Apocalyptic RPG’s Dome: many men enter, no man leaves.
Everyone comes to The Dome for different reasons. Some want to uncover its mysteries and understand why it suddenly appeared in the first place; others see it as a way to earn untold riches. Then there are those who feel a higher power drew them to the mystical structure, although there are plenty more whose “higher power” was the court system transferring them from one prison to another. Their reasons for coming are vast and varied, but their reasons for staying are all the same: they remain because they cannot leave.
Encased: A Sci-Fi Post-Apocalyptic RPG enlists players to start their own new lives under The Dome, allowing them to choose their backstories for signing away the rest of their lives to a limited square footage. Will they choose the Silver Wing managers and financiers? Maybe the White Wing scientists? Perhaps the Black Wing military personnel or the Blue Wing engineers? Or will they tough it out with the Orange Wing laborers recruited from the world’s prisons? Whatever the backgrounds, their fates are similarly sealed. Welcome to your new (and final) home.
Within the first few minutes of Encased: A Sci-Fi Post-Apocalyptic RPG, it becomes abundantly clear that Dark Crystal Games was aiming for an old school isometric RPG experience with the caveat being you can rotate the camera as needed (a nice modern touch!). Available for $29.99, this 1970s-era tactical sci-fi RPG asks players to “fight enemies, explore the anomalous wasteland, level up your character, join one of the forces in the ruined world.” A 20 hour main story journey spanning 3 acts with a 30 – 40 hour full completion time (per wing) and 14 endings in all, Encased: A Sci-Fi Post-Apocalyptic RPG offers the exact kind of gameplay fans of the original Fallout games will immediately recognize. How will your life under the Dome play out?
For my first playthrough, I chose to live life as a reformed convict in the Orange Wing, looked down on by most people in positions of authority. Although plenty of RPGs have plenty of unsavory classes, such as the thief, there’s still a sense of freedom to operate throughout the world. In Encased: A Sci-Fi Post-Apocalyptic RPG, I found a unique role where I was somewhat restricted in my ability to roam, if only mentally, because of my station as a prisoner turned forced laborer. Sure, I was able to walk around freely, but NPCs took one look at my jumpsuit and judged me immediately based off my uniform and treated me accordingly. It’s not a situation I think I’ve found myself in before in a gaming situation, so the chance to play something entirely new was fascinating.
Even though all wings are stuck underneath the same Dome, it doesn’t mean the world is small and known — in fact, it’s quite the opposite. As is par for the course with post-apocalyptic settings, Encased: A Sci-Fi Post-Apocalyptic RPG features a sea of broken down machinery, derelict buildings, and plenty of hidden ruins for enemies to hide in and loot to… well, loot. In fact, that’s kind of why you’re out and about in the first place — some strange things are afoot at a secret point of interest, and the higher ups need someone of your specific set of skills. Getting there is all part of the adventure, and what you find once you arrive, well… let’s just say this wasn’t in the welcome packet at all.
Encased: A Sci-Fi Post-Apocalyptic RPG’s exploration factor immediately sucked me in. There are what feels like an infinite amount of receptacles to search through, finding all sorts of items both useful and useless. Medkits contain bandages and radkits, janitor trolleys house brooms, and the odd box here and there might yield money, relics, and more. Even broken down toilets might have items stashed away in them! There is so much to just grab in every square inch of this world, making it really hard to unplug after hours of gameplay.
When it comes to fighting enemies, Encased: A Sci-Fi Post-Apocalyptic RPG turns from real time to turn-based action as soon as a not-so-friendly force notices your existence. Depending on your class and stats, players may feel more comfortable using their psionic energy, long range weapons, or melee combat, but the end result must be the same: fight or die. Like traditional and tabletop RPGs, players have a limited amount of action points per turn, meaning moving, attacking, healing, defending, etc. may not always fit in one round. You have all the time in the world to strategize, which can make for some interesting fight sequences. Will you pull back and aim for the explosive barrels your foes are standing dangerously close to? Or will you take them head on, smashing them to pieces with a wrench you found?
It’s in its combat, I feel, that Encased: A Sci-Fi Post-Apocalyptic RPG has the ability to either win lifelong fans or lose them entirely. In plenty of games, players tend to go in with their preferred combat style with the belief that the enemies may be tough, but not tough enough to force a new fighting strategy. In this case, players are going to need to pay close attention to what the game is hinting at them to do; for example, one of the earliest fights in the game is against three rats. Rats should be easy enough, right? But not if you have a long range weapon and they surround you, as your accuracy drops dramatically to about 12 – 30%. If you’re not paying attention and just try to juggernaut your favorite playstyle through all combat, you will die repeatedly — it’s best to hover over things and see what Encased: A Sci-Fi Post-Apocalyptic RPG is suggesting instead of just going with your gut. If you’re not up for a LOT of reading, this probably isn’t going to be for you.
Additionally, I think there’s both a good and bad side to the sheer amount of information that is available throughout Encased: A Sci-Fi Post-Apocalyptic RPG. Players will have to constantly monitor things like their sleep, hunger, thirst, health, radiation, etc., and it isn’t entirely clear which items take care of what right up front. Eating food out of combat can heal you, but it doesn’t seem to always be the case while in combat; speaking of food, eating certain ones can give effects that are termed things like “fatty foods” and “flatulence,” while washing your hands in a dingy bathroom sink removes thirst (ew?) and gives an effect like “vigorous.” There are so many effects, attributes, and other stats that will affect players throughout the game, so if you’re not coming with the background of games like Fallout 1 and 2 or Shadowrun under your belt, it may be a little overwhelming at first.
With that being said, if you are coming to the table with Fallout 1 and 2 or Shadowrun experience, Encased: A Sci-Fi Post-Apocalyptic RPG is an absolute must-play. It’s got that deep character creation and lore-dense world fans of old school CRPGs are looking for, and with stunning post-apocalyptic aesthetics to match. This isn’t a game that you’ll be able to play for a few hours here and there — this is one that’ll make you believe in time travel, starting one night after work and playing until you’re suddenly aware that the sun is rising. Encased: A Sci-Fi Post-Apocalyptic RPG sucks you in from the get-go with every pixel an infinite amount of information and possibilities to explore, absolutely worth every penny of its asking price.
Encased: A Sci-Fi Post-Apocalyptic RPG is finally emerging from its nearly two-year Early Access period and is all the better for its time spent in player-engaged development. Fans of Fallout 1 and 2 and Shadowrun are going to immediately fall in love with what Encased: A Sci-Fi Post-Apocalyptic RPG has to offer them, from its impressive character creation to vast world-building, from its ambient aesthetics to its divergent storytelling, and every nook and cranny worth exploring in between. You may be stuck underneath this Dome for the rest of your life, but rest assured you’ll be far too busy living your best post-apocalyptic life to care about anything outside of it anyway.
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: PC (reviewed); Publisher: Prime Matter; Developer: Dark Crystal Games; Players: 1; Released: September 7, 2021; MSRP: $29.99
Editor’s note: This review is based on a retail copy of Encased: A Sci-Fi Post-Apocalyptic RPG provided by the publisher.